Resident making threats with gun prompts Basalt police to petition court under red-tag law

Two potentially violent incidents involving a Basalt resident recently prompted a town police sergeant to file a “red flag” petition seeking a judge’s order to seize his firearms, according to court filings.

“This case is why the statute exists — to ensure that people who show a significant risk of causing harm to themselves or others don’t do it,” said Glenwood Springs lawyer Jeffrey Conklin, who also serves as Basalt’s town attorney, on Tuesday.

Since the Colorado’s Violence Prevention Act, also called a red-flag law, took effect Jan. 1, 2020, it has been used in Pitkin County courts twice, according to online data from the Colorado Judicial Branch. The Basalt case was the second instance.

Under the act, only law enforcement, a family member, or a household member can petition a judge to take guns away from a person showing troubling or dangerous behavior toward themselves or others. Through what’s called a temporary extreme-risk protection order (ERPO), a judge can order weapons taken away for up to 14 days if the judge finds evidence of a threat. A second hearing is then held to determine if the order should remain in effect, which, under state law, is up to 364 days. The individual also cannot purchase or use a firearm while the order is in effect.

Red-flag laws — and Colorado’s in particular — have drawn public scrutiny since a gunman’s attack on a LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs on Nov. 19. Five people were killed and another 17 injured from gunshot wounds, according to police statements to media.

Gun-control proponents have questioned why the red-flag law wasn’t used in El Paso County against the gunman in June 2021 when he was arrested on felony menacing and kidnapping charges connected to allegations that he threatened to kill his mother with a bomb, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents. Yet, even if the gunman’s firearms had been seized under the red-flag law, one year would have elapsed before the Colorado Springs shootings occurred.

“We’re certainly going to take a hard look at why (the) red flag law wasn’t used in this case and the case of the King Soopers shooter, what can be used to better publicize, make available, add different parties to make sure that it’s used when it should be used,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Sunday on “Meet the Press,” referring to the mass shooting June 21, 2021, at a Boulder supermarket where 10 people were killed.

In the Basalt case, Sgt. Nino Santiago on Nov. 17 filed a petition seeking a temporary ERPO against the individual in Pitkin County District Court following an incident the previous day and an incident Nov. 9.

The following timeline is based on filings in the case:

— Nov. 9, 8:05 a.m., Pitkin County dispatch received a call that a Basalt resident was at his home with a pistol to his head and threatening to take his life. “Guns were removed, and he was immediately evaluated and involuntarily committed to psyche ward on Front Range,” Santiago wrote in court filings, noting that the man and two relatives inside the home confirmed what happened. The two relatives also said the man yelled that he hated them both.

“While (the man) was being transferred to Valley View Hospital, he made a statement to the Basalt officer who was in the ambulance. The statement was something to the effect of (the man) saying he should have used the gun in a fashion that would have put police in the position to have to kill him.”

A blood draw the same day showed methanphetamines in his system. Santiago also seized his firearms.

— Nov. 16, time unknown, Basalt police responded to a report of domestic dispute where a woman locked herself in her room, “as she was scared” because the same man was showing same behavior as in the Nov. 9 incident. He also demanded that his guns be returned immediately, according to Santiago.

— Nov. 21, Santiago filed a petition and affidavit seeking a temporary ERPO in Pitkin County District Court.

— Nov. 22, a virtual hearing on the matter was held before 9th Judicial District Judge Anne Norrdin, who found probable cause that the man posed a credible threat of violence, and “there has been a credible threat of the unlawful or reckless use of a firearm” by the man, according to courtroom minutes.

Norrdin also appointed Glenwood Springs lawyer Lucy Laffoon to represent the man during the proceedings. Laffoon was in trial Tuesday and could not be immediately reached for comment.

Dec. 6 is when the temporary ERPO expires. A hearing is scheduled that day to determine if the order should be extended. That will depend on whether the man is still considered high risk.

“That’s the relief that is available under the statute,” Conklin said. “We’re still evaluating how to proceed with that permanent order.”

He added, “The town just hopes for the best for the respondent and his family.”

The man has not been charged with any crimes and is not in custody, Conklin said.

Pitkin County is part of the 9th Judicial District, which also includes Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.

From the time the red-law took effect until June 30 of this year, seven ERPOs have been filed in the entire 9th Judicial District, according to the Colorado Judicial Branch. None has been filed in Rio Blanco, five have been filed in Garfield County, and there are the two in Pitkin. Data was not immediately available regarding how many of those cases were approved by the court. Statewide, 308 ERPO petitions had been filed during that same period, data showed.

Officials with the Aspen Police Department and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said their offices have not taken any red-flag actions. Critics, including some Colorado sheriffs, have called the red-tag law unconstitutional — but not in Pitkin, where Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has voiced support for the law.

Basalt Police Chief Greg Knott declined to comment about the current case, referring questions to Conklin.

According to a report the state attorney general’s office published in August 2021, key findings from Colorado’s first year with a red-flag law included:

  • Petitioners filed fewer than 125 red flag petitions during 2020;
  • Law enforcement filed the majority of the red flag petitions;
  • Courts granted law enforcement petitions at a higher rate than family or household member petitions;
  • Courts issued orders against respondents who threatened suicide, intimate partner violence, and mass shootings;and
  • Courts affirmed that the Violence Prevention Act adequately protects constitutional rights.

The report noted that “most individuals take 10 minutes or less to think through a suicide attempt and rarely employ other methods if the first option is unavailable. Therefore, if a high-risk individual cannot access a firearm, that individual is less likely to resort to other means of attempting suicide.”

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